Gearing up for Landing Day—USGS Mars Rover Team (Alicia Vaughn)

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Gearing up for Landing Day - An Interview with USGS Contractor and Mars Rover Team Member, Alicia Vaughan

USGS Astrogeology has been involved in the Perseverance Mission from selecting the landing site and generating a map of the area that is on board the rover to rover operations once Perseverance lands on the red planet. Learn more about Astrogeology's involvement from scientists who will be living on Mars time to work with Perseverance daily!


Date Taken:

Length: 00:05:00

Location Taken: Flagstaff, AZ, US


Hi everyone. My name is Railyn Stokes and I'm a management analyst and communication team lead at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, and today I am joined by a colleague of mine, Alicia Vaughn. Hello. Alicia is a collaborator and contractor for the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and she works on the MastCam-Z instrument team for the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and she's going to be working on science operations once the rover lands. So thank you so much for joining us today, Alicia. We have a couple of questions as we're getting excited for landing in February. Yes. So how did you first get involved in Mars Rover Operations? I followed my advisor in Grad school Doctor Wendy Calvin. She was selected as a participating scientist on the Mars Rover Mission that had Spirit and Opportunity so long ago and I had been doing research on banded iron formations as an analog to the hematite we were going to be studying at Meridiani with Opportunity so she invited me along. And we both worked for the MiniTes instrument, which was a spectrometer, a thermal spectrometer. Cool well, thank you for sharing that history. So I know that there has to be a lot of great stories and memories. What would you say is one of your favorite stories or memories that you have from working operations? Oh, so many good stories but really the landing night for Opportunity is a big highlight in my life in general. We were at JPL with the engineers and it was very exciting to successfully land and see those first images come down. Opportunity rolled into a small crater so those first images showed us sediment bedrock for the first time on Mars and that was really really cool. Yeah. Wow. It sounds like it. So what are you going to be doing on operations once the rover lands? Working for the MastCam-Z camera and what's called the payload science lead so that person helps to process the data that comes down from that camera and to make sure that the scientific intent of the observation was captured and then for uplink, we help the other scientist on the team get the best plan, the best observations with our camera to get the data that they're looking for. Definitely sounds like you're going to be busy! Yes. So I know that there have to be a lot of people out there wondering what would be your advice for young people or people looking to start their career in another direction who are interested in getting involved with future Mars missions? Oh, that's a great question. Well, obviously you need a relevant degree whether that's in the sciences or in engineering, and I think it's important to realize how interdisciplinary the work is. So even me with the geology background has to, you know, learn quite a bit about programming and, you know, working with data, you know, understanding math. I think, you know, to be involved in robotic exploration. There are so many different fields. Whether it's just classic like mechanical engineering to computer science and software development to the classical science that you know to be a scientist that's part of the investigations to answer the big questions. So I think it's cool that there's so many different, you know ways that you could be involved. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. So given our current situation, how will the covid nineteen pandemic affect operations for the Perseverance Rover? Oh uh well. Unfortunately, it means we can't all be together and historically even though the science team is all over the globe, we have come together and co-located with the engineers at JPL for operations and we can't do that. So like everyone else, we're you know utilizing virtual meeting software and teleconferences to get the work done. And with that, it is such a large team with so many tasks that have to get done on a deadline. A big part of our training up to now has been how to get through those meetings efficiently and working on communications protocols because it is a large task. Yeah. Well, I'm certainly glad that we had the opportunity to meet today virtually and I appreciate you sharing your history and some of your favorite moments and all that we have to look forward to as you work on operations come February. So thank you so much for your time and all the work that you do. And thanks everyone for watching and we're looking forward to landing day. Yay!